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Christmas and sleep

07 March 2011

It's the end of the year, Christmas and New Year celebrations nearly upon us and perhaps you are going to have a holiday or at least a break. I was going to write about diet but then I passed a news agency shop and read the front page of many women's magazines spouting the latest diet fads and I thought, Dieting over Christmas - are you kidding? So here's my healthy option: Catch up on sleep.

Sleep is very important for brain health. The brain is often overlooked when we embark upon a new health regime. We tend to consider diet and exercise, and it is not until we notice a decline in our cognitive functions, that we start to do cross-words and sudoku. However we can do a lot NOW to protect against memory decline and one is to get adequate sleep. (I can almost hear women crying out, What is sleep?) We have all experienced the detrimental effects from lack of sleep.

The good news is that we do make new brain cells (neurons) and these new neurons may replace damaged or dead neurons and may also assist in rewiring old sections of the brain. Our neurons do not divide, as is the case with most other cells in our body. Instead they possess various repair mechanisms that allow the majority of our neurons to last a lifetime. This process is called neurogenesis and while there are a number of factors that govern the success of neurogenesis, one is sleep.

Sleep appears to stimulate repair mechanisms for neurons. The brain undertakes repairs and replenishes reserves of neurochemicals involved in learning and concentration during sleep. Most of our knowledge is processed and stored into memory during sleep. While there is no guarantee from cognitive decline it makes good sense to think about brain health.

So sleep on it!